Backyard Bliss

Chris Sears Carves Out a Slice of Heaven

A backyard can be a place to grill out and fight off mosquitoes or it can serve as a veritable oasis. When it comes to creating an outdoor living experience that comfortably welcomes friends and family during the summer and year-round, think beyond the grass and consider incorporating elements that turn your humble backyard into an entertainment and relaxation station.

“Folks are wanting to invest more in their backyard living,” says Chris Sears, president of Sears Smith & Associates, a full-service landscape architecture firm offering architectural landscape design and hardscape construction for commercial and residential properties. “Whether sport courts, artificial turf or even newer contemporary materials, such as cable railing or glass partitions on decks, there are nice higher-end elements that used to be more reserved for commercial projects that people are seeing and wanting at their own residence.”

As an example of this upgrading trend, Sears describes one of his firms’ recent projects, which included a waterfall, sport court, outdoor jacuzzi, deck, and a firepit in the backyard, as well as a tennis wall on the side of the house. With such a range of options available, today’s homeowners can create customized outdoor living environments based on their individual interests, which could mean adding a bocce court, a putting green, a fully equipped outdoor kitchen or a sport court that can easily welcome a game of basketball or shuffleboard.

“Basketball and multiuse sport courts have become popular,” says Sears. “They come in a multitude of colors and can be custom designed.”

If these features all sound like great ideas, but you wouldn’t know where to begin, a landscape architect can help by performing a site analysis and designing a site plan that ideally suits your property and family’s wishes. Not only can the perfect design provide all of the amenities of choice, but it can also make outdoor lawn maintenance easier in the long run, too by being proactive with landscaping for now and the future.

“We prefer not to fight nature, so we design for what we know works. That means taking all of the microclimatic factors into mind, such as shade, tree competition, drainage, intended usage and many others so that we leave the homeowner with a design that will work.”

When planning a complex outdoor environment, keeping the landscaping, hardscape and amenity projects under one umbrella can help the project go more smoothly and stay on track. But that does not mean any great landscaper is ideally suited for incorporating additional elements. While some landscapers may offer extra services, like building an outdoor pavilion or shade structure, not all are qualified to do so. Sears is a licensed landscape architect with a Georgia commercial unlimited-tier general contractor license, so he’s specially qualified to handle both the landscape and the hardscape, which he performs under A&C Development Inc., a fully licensed and insured contractor. Expertise with both aspects can also have benefits when it comes to keeping a project on track financially.

“I always remind folks that the devil is in the details,” says Sears. There is a wide range to what features and materials cost. For example, a patio can run you anywhere from $4 to $24 per square foot, depending on the material chosen, the site preparation and base material, and the location, grading and accessibility issues. “We are very good at budgeting good ranges of construction costs that can be helpful in understanding how to target a desired budget or make hard choices to phase elements until later.”

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